Charles van Onselen

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Professor Charles van Onselen is a researcher and historian, based at the University of Pretoria, South Africa.[1] He resides in Johannesburg.

He was formerly employed at the University of the Witwatersrand, where he headed the Institute of Advanced Social Research. He is a well-known critic of Afrikaner nationalism.

One of his most notable published works is The Seed is Mine: The Life of Kas Maine, a South African Sharecropper 1894–1985 (Oxford: James Currey, 1996). The book was described as a 'detailed and compelling history of the effect of South Africa's Land Laws on one man and his family'. [1] He received the Alan Paton Award for the book in 1997. He is also well known in academic circles for his two volume pioneering social and economic history of the late nineteenth/early twentieth century Witwatersrand: New Babylon New Nineveh: Everyday life on the Witwatersand 1886–1914.

Van Onselen wrote Small Matter of a Horse: The Life of 'Nongoloza' Mathebula, 1867–1948 (Ravan Press, 1984); The story of Nongoloza has further repercussions in the South African prison gang legends as described in the excellent "The Number" by Jonny Steinberg.

His latest work, The Fox and the Flies, is published by Jonathan Cape, an imprint of Random House. The Fox and the Flies provides a social, political, and economic history of the Trans-Atlantic underworld from about 1890 until 1918, the year Joseph Silver was executed by the Austro-Hungarian military. The book tracks the life of Joseph Silver, whom van Onselen speculates could have been Jack the Ripper.


  1. ^ "Prof Charles van Onselen". University of Pretoria. Retrieved 13 June 2014.